retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    The San Francisco Chronicle has a story noting that Zappos, the Amazon-owned online retailer, "is transitioning away from a traditional management structure to a less hierarchical, manager-free system called Holacracy."

    According to the story, the effort "eliminates formal job titles, managers, and traditional hierarchy in favor of a series of overlapping "circles" where people can have several different roles. The goal is to increase the level of accountability, since employees are held accountable by all their coworkers rather than a single manager, as well as transparency in order to quickly and publicly resolve sources of tension."

    While this is an unorthodox approach to management structure, the story makes clear that Zappos "is an explicitly people and customer-focused company, and this wouldn't be the first unusual management technique instituted there. The company requires all hires to go through the training customer service representatives attend, spending two weeks on the phone. It also has an intentionally inconvenient office to encourage employee collisions. So they just might make it work."

    Interesting approach … especially when seen in the context of an interview with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in the New York Times the other day, in which he mentioned that at the company's Las Vegas offices, the best view is enjoyed by "the call center reps. We’ve always done that. They’re the ones providing customer service and that is what our brand is about."

    And, he said, when asked about where the top executives it, Hsieh said, "We don’t like the term 'executive.' So, we went with 'monkeys' instead. Monkey Row is where myself and some of my co-workers sit."

    Iconoclastic, to be sure. And such an approach probably would be tough to impose on an entrenched company, as opposed to creating from scratch.

    But … the notion of creating productivity through empowerment and understanding that the real power is on the front lines ought not be as radical as some believe it is.

    At least IMHO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    Walmart said yesterday that it will add DNA tests of the meat it sells in China, responding to widespread criticisms after it was discovered that its stores there were selling donkey meat that contained fox DNA.

    Walmart has withdrawn all products supplied by the Dezhou Fujude Food Company, and reportedly is considering legal actions against the company. Published reports say that Chinese officials have put executives from Dezhou Fujude into "criminal detention," pending further investigation.

    According to the Bloomberg Businessweek story, "Wal-Mart said it’s offering compensation to customers and that the testing it’s adding goes beyond what is legally required in China. The world’s largest retailer had previously increased safety measures after contamination and mis-labeling incidents, including a 2012 citation by regulators for selling sesame oil and squid with hazardous levels of chemicals … Wal-Mart is working to maintain a reputation for higher food safety as a company based outside China. It has said it plans to add as many as 110 stores over three years in the world’s most populous nation."

    Greg Foran, president of Walmart's China business, said in a prepared statement that “Walmart will spare no effort in fulfilling its obligations as a retailer and in working with government authorities in their investigation … Walmart commits to further enhance sample testing in the future.”
    KC's View:
    Man, I just hate it when fox meat gets mixed into my donkey meat. Throws off the whole balance, and makes things a bit more chewy than I'd like…

    I have to admit that when I read "criminal detention," I wonder if this is a euphemism for something else.

    At the end of the day, Walmart has to take responsibility for the products it sells … and grapple with this tarnishing of its image in China. Because it strikes me as likely that a lot more people know the name "Walmart" than know the name "Dezhou Fujude." It won't matter who goes into criminal detention if Walmart loses the trust of its shoppers.

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    General Mills said yesterday that it has stopped using genetically modified ingredients in its original version of Cheerios cereal.

    According to the USA Today story, "While the oats used to make Cheerios have never contained any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the company did make changes to its sourcing — and now, for example, only uses non-GMO pure cane sugar instead of beet sugar, says spokesman Mike Siemienas."

    The story also says that "General Mills has no plans to phase out GMOs from its other cereals in the U.S, even though most Cheerios varieties sold in Europe are made without GMOs."

    And, the story goes on, "The move is being hailed by anti-GMO activist groups as a major victory. It comes at a time activists have been increasingly pressuring American food makers to remove GMOs from all foods — or, at the very least, label all foods that do contain GMOs."

    The Wall Street Journal story says that "the 73-year-old breakfast cereal one of the highest-profile brands to change in the face of growing complaints over such ingredients from activist groups and some consumers."

    The Journal also notes that General Mills "started manufacturing the GMO-free cereal several weeks ago, and expects it to be available to consumers 'shortly,' once the products have made their way through the distribution system and onto shelves. The Cheerios will carry the label 'Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients,' though the company notes that they could contain trace amounts due to contamination in shipping or manufacturing."
    KC's View:
    To me, it is the labeling on the package that is more important than the actual policy change.

    It shows that such labels are possible. It shows that in the opinion one big company, such labels are desired by consumers, and may be welcomed even by those who are not calling for them.

    It is an important move, because it is not being taken by a small, fringe manufacturer. You don't get more mainstream than Cheerios.

    The tide is turning.

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that while the US Postal Service (USPS) may be raising mailing rates, it also is testing new point-of-sale systems designed to improve the post office experience.

    According to the story, "Over the holiday, USPS began experimenting with a mobile point-of-sale tool that you might more commonly expect to find at a crowded Potbelly sandwich shop. iPods loaded with package scanners and credit-card readers handled more than 100,000 transactions across 50 post offices during the season, according to USPS. The new technology lets Postal Service agents take prepaid packages, sell postage and conduct other services while walking around the store."

    The Post notes that "the mobile check-out upgrades are a reminder that USPS brings in a big chunk of its revenues from selling stuff at brick-and-mortar stores. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office found that post offices earned USPS some $10 billion. By contrast, in 2012 it made less than $250 million off sales from"
    KC's View:
    You get a sense of how certain industries are perceived when you see that this article carries the headline, Even the Postal Service is better at doing checkout than grocery stores now.

    And, the story includes this passage:

    "With the upgrade to mobile payments, the Postal Service has effectively leapfrogged ahead of tiresome checkout experiences at another American hallmark: supermarkets … it bears repeating just how badly broken our traditional way of paying for retail has become — and how technology has created new and different ways for us to fix it."

    BTW…I take a lot of shots at the post office, but you'd never think it is a dying business model if you tried to mail a package during December. Now, all they have to do is figure out how to add services and build vitality, making the USPS more relevant to how people live and work.

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) said yesterday that it is appealing a $5.7 billion settlement of a 2005 class action suit filed by merchants against MasterCard and Visa over credit card transaction fees.

    The settlement, despite being opposed by a number of associations and retailers, was approved by a federal judge who said the deal ultimately was fair. NRF said that some 8,000 retailers and merchants oppose the settlement, believing it is flawed and weighted in the card companies' favor.

    "Instead of lowering fees, the card industry's settlement proposes that merchants pass them along to consumers in the form of surcharges," NRF's general counsel, Mallory Duncan, said in a statement. "That is absolutely the opposite of what retailers sought, and major retailers have soundly rejected surcharging."

    The National Grocers Association (NGA), the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon and 7-Eleven already had announced their intention to appeal.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Staples is retiring its longtime slogan, "That Was Easy," and replacing it with a new one, "Make More Happen," which is designed to focus "on how Staples' expanded product assortment helps businesses succeed. The campaign showcases the new Staples, the world's second largest internet retailer with more products in more categories with more ways to shop. The brand re-launch includes a twist on Staples' iconic logo and the first change to its tagline in more than 10 years."

    The story also notes that "to reinforce that Staples is adding thousands of new products beyond office supplies every day, the company is changing its logo by removing the 'L'-- the iconic, bent staple."
    KC's View:
    I've been consistently impressed with Staples' efforts to make itself more relevant to a changing business community, trying to become a resource as opposed to just a source of product. Which, it seems to me, is a critical shift if the business is be sustainable long-term.

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    Here's a passage, from the Sacramento Bee, that seemed designed to grab the attention of readers (especially those who need glasses to read the print):

    The youngest members of the baby boom generation begin turning 50 on New Year’s Day. Happy birthday, youngest boomers, and welcome to your AARP cards and discounted Denny’s meals.
    KC's View:

    I knew that Baby Boomers were getting older, but this sort of put it in sharp relief. Though I'm not sure that turning 50 makes one suddenly crave dinner at Denny's at 4 pm…

    I'm right in the middle of the Boomer generation, but I would suggest that a lot of us are in denial about it. I live in blue jeans and t-shirts, I work on the internet, I plan to start taking senior citizen benefits when I reach 70, have no intention of retiring, and you'll never find me enjoying a discounted meal (or any meal, for that matter) at Denny's.

    I'm with Dylan Thomas on this one…

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

    Published on: January 3, 2014 reports that a new study suggests that a high percentage of affluent Americans are shopping at Amazon - "69% of the adults in the $250,000+ household income segment have shopped there in the past 12 months … 60% of Amazon's customers shop at Amazon at least once a month and, as household income increases, so does the probability of an Amazon customer's shopping there (64% of the $500,000+ household-income segment shops there once a month or more frequently)."

    The story goes on: "Amazon and Walmart are the only two retailers from which the majority of Americans (59%) made a purchase in the past twelve months. Notably, Walmart reached more mass-market adults (with household incomes of less than $75,000) while Amazon reached many more affluent and luxury-oriented consumers (household incomes $75,000+, $250,000+ and $500,000+). According to this survey, Walmart customers' average income is about $76,000 while Amazon's average is about $89,000."

    The study is from the Shullman Luxury and Affluence Monthly Pulse.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    • Whole Foods said yesterday that its Local Producer Loan Program "has reached the initial goal of funding $10 million in low-interest loans to local and independent food businesses, and has now committed up to $25 million in funding. The Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) has provided 184 loans to 155 companies since its inception in 2007."

    According to Whole Foods, "In providing easier access to loans for budding food businesses, the program’s first $10 million in funding has not only enabled growth, but also supported pioneering projects in biodynamic farming, non-GMO animal feed, pollinator health and sustainable packaging … Loan recipients must meet Whole Foods Market’s quality standards, use the funds for expansion and have a viable business plan. Typical loans range from $1,000 to $100,000 and have fixed low-interest rates.

    "Previous loan recipients have used their loans for purchasing more livestock, investing in new equipment, expanding production facilities, adapting to more sustainable practices or converting to organic production."

    • Kroger said this week that its pharmacies are "providing up to a 30-day supply of certain prescriptions at no upfront cost to customers who have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act's Public Health Insurance Marketplace but do not yet have identification information from an insurer … Customers are asked to provide confirmation of their enrollment in a public health insurance marketplace to a Kroger Family Pharmacy for verification of coverage."

    • The National Grocers Association (NGA) said yesterday that it has officially launched what it is calling the NGA Political Action Center, which it says "will enable independent grocers to connect directly with their federal legislators on a number of platforms, while also integrating NGA grassroots efforts with the NGA Grocers PAC."

    "The independent grocery channel plays a significant role in the nation's economy through the generation of billions in sales and the creation of reliable jobs. Legislators and policymakers make decisions that impact our businesses on almost a daily basis, and it is critical that our industry is active and unified in the political process to ensure our interests are well represented," said Peter J. Larkin, NGA's president/CEO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    Responding to yesterday's pieces about Christmas e-shopping issues as well as Target's continuing troubles, one MNB user wrote:

    The amount of shopping I’ve done at Target has been waning the last couple of years.  So I was not one of the people worried that my credit card had been compromised.  However. I did find their weekend offer of 10% off all purchases intriguing.  My iPod had died and this seemed like a good time to  get a new one.  So I ventured to our local mall on the Saturday before Christmas (something I general avid like the plague).  When I got the electronics department the manager told me that the offer was good on everything in the store except Apple and Boise products (supposedly in the fine print somewhere, but could never find it after the fact.)  But the manager said it probably doesn’t matter because they only color in stock was pink.  The manager admitted they were having problems with in-stocks on the items consumer really wanted to buy.

    So my recent experience with Target is that there is a reliability question with their credit card system, their promotion to get people back in-store was not completely true and there really isn’t any reason to go back because they have in-stock issues with the products I’m most interested in.  Staying at home with Amazon et al continues to look better all the time.

    From another reader:

    Kevin, there is going to be a lot of finger pointing by all parties with regards to shoppers not getting the last minute gifts which they were guaranteed by Christmas. I have no dog in the race, but as a Consultant, I did poke into the infrastructure of how it all works out of my own curiosity.

    The delivery carriers (UPS, FedEx, etc) all hired short term help. They rented trucks from U-Haul and others. Many deliveries occurred well after what is normal; most of us know exactly when our FedEx delivery truck comes and often I saw them 2-3 times / day and consistently delivering after 8pm at night. I talked to 8 different drivers who all said they were incredibly busy and the expectation placed on them was to get every package delivered before they returned to their facility. I was told that everyone in the local area facilities was working overtime and flat-out as they get every package out that came in that day.  Now, 8 different driver discussions doesn’t yield statistically significant research, but it pointed out to me that the problem was more likely upstream, less likely in the delivery city.

    My own knowledge of airline scheduling tells me that part of the problem could well be how these airplanes can be redeployed, if at all, to handle more through the distribution (package transmission) process. When many short delivery orders are received, the airplanes can’t easily be redeployed / repositioned. There is no doubt that this is a potential issue and one not easily solved. Some will say “then ship it on a commercial carrier” but freight always goes 2nd priority to checked baggage.  (And, it’s hard to imagine drones being the answer; let’s set that futuristic idea aside for the moment.)  There simply aren’t enough freight-only 747’s and A-380’s to redeploy for package transmission on a moments notice.

    While some of the online sellers are saying it isn’t their fault, it is hard to imagine that the online sellers won’t conclude they must cut off Christmas guarantees sooner in 2014. It will be interesting to see these changes next holiday season.  Let’s hope they don’t conclude an option “for an extra fee of $x, we’ll GUARANTEE you get it by Christmas Eve”. I’d rather they have a guarantee that says “If we guarantee it will be there and it can’t, then we’ll pay for you to pick up the same item (model number) at the closest retailer”.  Now, that would be an online reseller who means customer service.

    Since Amazon doesn’t make any money anyway – and Wall Street seems OK with mediocre profits from Amazon – I think Amazon could set an “amazing” standard with this guarantee, don’t you think?

    MNB user Don Skiver wrote:

    How many of those little ones were disappointed on Christmas day when “Santa” couldn’t deliver their presents on time???  I do shop online too, but “when it absolutely, positively, has to be there” I prefer bricks and mortars . . .

    This assumes that stores don't have out of stocks. Seems to me that the real problem is people who wait too long to shop … though as I've said, it isn't a winning strategy for retailers to blame customers for anything. (Not being a retailer, I can blame anyone I want.)

    MNB reader Pete Deeb wrote:

    I think the Holiday season of 2013 will be a season of learning for the entire E retail supply chain including the consumer. Rather than placing and/or accepting blame the E retailers and the shipping companies should do some joint analysis and some future projections based on the exponential growth of this segment of Holiday business. I am not sure anyone could have predicted the volume this year BUT the future should see improved performance. As for consumers they need to be realistic in their expectations. To your point I am sure many of these purchases were substitutes for the people you see in stores on 12/24 every year.

    And from another:

    My husband and I were just having this same discussion over the last couple of days.  We really utilized our Amazon Prime membership and every single package was delivered on time.  I happen to be one who waits until the final hour to buy Christmas presents so Amazon Prime is a life saver.  I have to say that although they were working tirelessly, every UPS or FedEx driver whom I crossed paths this Christmas were as friendly as could be and I thank them for their service.  The retailers were the ones promising last minute deliveries and they caused the flood of last minute deliveries to pile up.  I agree with you, Jeff Bezos will figure out a solution before the end of 2014.

    MNB user Howard Leader wrote:

    I am a 60 year old guy who understands the convenience, but seldom uses the Internet for buying gifts. This year I decided to buy gift boxes for my adult children and have them get them prior to Christmas. I ordered food baskets from Wine Country USA on the 11th of December, with free delivery by the 20th. One package delivered on time to New Jersey. I checked the delivery status with UPS for the 2nd package to Austin, and was told the delivery committed by UPS on the 20th ,  was now delayed to the 24th. I knew my son was leaving Austin on the 21st and no one would be there to receive the package. Alarmed, I got on the phone to Wine Country, and without any hesitation, they offered a replacement basket to be shipped overnight to where my son would be (at the in laws) in Midland, TX.  UPS again failed to meet their overnight commitment and the delivery was finally made in 2 days, and was received on the 23nd.

    The customer service from Wine Country way exceeded my expectations… Not only did they address my concerns,  upon his return to Austin, my son found the original package waiting for him on his porch. The gift that kept on giving!

    From another:

    I wanted to send a note to let you know how much I appreciated your comment regarding late Christmas deliveries,

    “And I'm not sure that parent who waits until two days before Christmas to order that game that the kid absolutely has to have … well, I'm not sure that this parent has a legitimate complaint."

    I watched and read all of the news stories about how all of these customers were let down and how angry they were and all I could think was that if their gifts were so important and critical to the success of Christmas for them, then why did they wait until the last minute to order them?  And don’t even get me started on how somewhere the meaning behind Christmas must be lost on these people if their holidays were ruined because of a gift snafu.  Personally, if this had happened to me, I would have seen it as a teaching opportunity for my kids, not an opportunity for me to get angry and complain about being a “victim”.

    On the importance of valuing people on the front line as assets, not costs, one MNB user wrote:

    Hasn’t Costco proven this concept, time and again?

    I talked recently to the Costco Club Manager in Brandon, FL who told me they finalized their seasonal part time staff early in November and didn’t expect any seasonal workers would become full time staff because they had no transition of full time staff. I learned from someone else that every seasonal staff member hired came from other retailers.

    Costco’s model of few SKU’s, creating “want merchandise”, and being ahead of the season works. But so does the way they treat their staff. Its likely one of their best kept secrets to growing sales /store.

    MNB reader John Domino wrote:

    I have agreed with you for many years, although I dare say that most of my Harvard B -School classmates may be just coming around to the "labor force as critical asset mentality."  Some of the companies in the food industry that have the highest P/E ratio's and market capitalizations are Costco and Whole Foods, both of whom invest in better wages, better benefits and employee empowerment.  These investments lead to less turnover, a more motivated and energized staff, better customer service, higher customer loyalty, higher sales, and ultimately higher profits.

    Many HR departments stammer on about the virtues of employee engagement, hire multi-million dollar consultants, and waste millions on hollow programs that have little meaning or impact.  However, when it gets close to the end of a quarter, or sales drop off by .5%, the first reaction at these companies is to cut labor, cut training and always to team up with their primary competitors in the market to negotiate wage cuts in the next union contract.  A real culture of respecting and empowering employees is not easy and does not come naturally for many retailers (especially where they have a unionized work force with union leadership that is stuck in a 1970's mentality), but those that do (and this is a real advantage for many independents) lay a foundation for long term success.

    Yesterday's MNB contained a discussion about e-reading vs. using paper-and-ink books, leading one reader to write:

    Adding to the dialog in this morning’s “Your Views”, I want to let you know that my mom, who just turned 90, has been a voracious reader all her life and has lately been struggling with traditional books because of arthritis in her hands. Holding the weight of traditional books, especially heavier ones, has become a hindrance to reading. She and my father were given an iPad Air for their November birthdays (he’s 91 now) and she, especially, seems to have fallen in love with reading books on the new, light weight medium. It’s also such a blessing that both of my folks are willing and able to learn a whole new technology in their 90s! They download books from the local library and have discovered how easy it is to do.


    Good for them.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 3, 2014

    One of the best things about taking time off over the holidays was the opportunity to go to a bunch of movies … and now, having the opportunity to write about what I saw.

    The Wolf of Wall Street was probably the highest profile movie I saw, and the one about which I have the most mixed emotions. Wolf is the new Martin Scorsese movie detailing the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, who fueled his Wall Street career with securities fraud and ethical corruption of an epic nature. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort,a real-life figure, with a kind of demonic glee - it is all about personal gratification, accumulating money and power, and demonstrating an extraordinary arrogance about his business acumen and carnal needs. There is no sense that just because you can do something does not mean you should do something.

    Mt biggest problem with Wolf is not so much that it glorifies the sex and drugs, something that it has been accused of my some commentators. Rather, it is that Scorsese's work reminds me of a modern artist flinging paint against a canvas … I admire the energy and commitment, but I find the result less than compelling. The performances - by DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner and especially Matthew McConaughey - are strong. But the more I think about the three-hour-long Wolf of Wall Street, the more I think that the parts are less than the whole.

    Lone Survivor, on the other hand, actually is a movie in which the filmmakers turn something essentially small - a disastrous US Navy Seals mission in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of three Seals and the bare survival of just one. (No spoiler here - the title and the first three minutes of the movie give all this away.) The mission went bad because the Seals accidentally ran into some goat herders and, rather than kill them, let them go - even though it almost certainly meant they would alert the Taliban to their presence. In other words, the Seals make the hard, moral decision … and suffer for it. (The argument essentially would be to murder the unarmed herders in cold blood would hurt the US effort in Afghanistan over the long term by undermining any moral superiority.)

    Lone Survivor is tightly written, directed and acted - there is not an ounce of fat on the movie, which also, it must be said, is brutal and often hard to watch. But the world created by director Peter Berg is compelling, and one has a sense that he is being driven by the facts, not a desire to heighten reality.

    Mark Wahlberg, who co-produced the film and plays Marcus Luttrell, the surviving Seal of the title who co-wrote a book of the same name, anchors the movie admirably without making it a star turn. And strong performances by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana only add to the movie's verisimilitude.

    Saving Mr. Banks is the somewhat sanitized true story of what happened when PL Travers, author of the Mary Poppins novels, came to Hollywood to be wooed by Walt Disney, who desperately wanted to turn the iconic British nanny into a movie. Travers was resistant, to say the least, feeling (with some justification) Disneyfication of her characters, who she viewed (with much justification) as family; the always wonderful Emma Thompson plays Travers with a prickly exterior with roots in some real-life tragedy, so it never seems anything but real. And Tom Hanks gives his version of Walt Disney a folksiness that belies his iron will … Disney didn't get to be Disney by taking "no" for an answer.

    There are some lovely supporting performances by Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman and Bradley Whitford, and I found Saving Mr. Banks to be a generally pleasant experience loaded with business lessons - it is about the importance of determination, how critical it is to understand exactly what core values are, and, ultimately, how to manage for ultimate effectiveness. It is important to remember that while Disney may not have gotten Travers' "Mary Poppins" absolutely right, Disney's Mary Poppins is an undeniable classic.

    My favorite movie of the break, however, is Philomena, a fabulous British film - and, like all the movies I saw in theaters, based on a real-life story - about Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who, in her late sixties, sets out to find the son that she was forced to give up by nuns when she was in her teens (she was a single mother). Philomena, played superbly by Judi Dench with a slight dottiness that evolves into real determination and wisdom, is aided by a disgraced and cynical British journalist, Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the screenplay, based on a book by Sixsmith).

    Philomena goes back and forth between the search for the son and the events that led to him being taken away from his mother, who was serving time - there is no other way to put it - in a convent where the nuns treated her and other single mothers as pariahs. And what struck me is the degree to which the film shows that ethical behavior, moral superiority, compassion and forgiveness have little to do with being part of an organization that may preach such things but does not practice them. There is much more that I could tell you about the movie, but I'm going to stop there - one of the pleasures for me was how much I did not know about the story going in, and how the film unfolds.

    Philomena is a lovely piece of filmmaking - beautifully directed by Stephen Frears, acted with great care, subtlety and humor by Dench and Coogan - and it deserves to be seen by a wide audience. See it.

    The last movie I saw was a film that actually never made it to theaters - Hachi: A Dog's Tale, a 2009 G-rated movie that went direct-to-video because the studio had very little confidence in its ability to make any money.

    The studio was wrong. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and acted by Richard Gere and Joan Allen, Hachi is a heart-tugger and absolutely wonderful. I'm not going to tell you anything more about it than you should rent it and watch it. If you don't cry, you need sensitivity training.

    Finally … I also read a book over the holidays. (In paper-and-ink format, just FYI). "The Gods Of Guilt" is the latest in the Lincoln Lawyer series by Michael Connelly, and it is yet another page turner by one of the best mystery writers working today. "The Gods of Guilt" finds defense attorney Mickey Haller defending a pimp, which makes it hard for him to attain the personal and professional redemption he craves.

    One of the things about Connelly's books - whether about Haller or LA detective Harry Bosch - is that one has the sense that the author has been in all the rooms and heard all the conversations that he's writing about. And that's a compelling virtue, and reason enough to read everything that Connelly writes. Great stuff.

    A final, personal note.

    My mom would have been 83 years old tomorrow. Unfortunately, she passed away after a long battle with cancer in 1998. Way too early. While she was barely five feet tall, she was enormously tough … and I miss her a lot.

    Just a suggestion, if I may. If your mom is still around, call her. Take her out for a cup of coffee, or lunch, or a drink. Give her a hug. You'll be glad you did. I wish I could.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: